• Sutton Atkins

My journey BACK to speedskating

Since Feb 2011 I've been battling with a back problem (as I am sure many skaters age 40+ have) my particular problem is Chronic Degenerative Discs. (It's a genetic disorder, exacerbated by speedskating for 30 years). Even being able to tell you the name of the problem is a massive step forward, it wasn't until November 2015 that UK doctors diagnosed it.

In the beginning, it wasn't that bad; maybe I had pain for a week, but then it would be ok for a month or two and I could train as normal. By 2013 it had worsened; constant pain every day, some days I couldn't walk properly, other days it was just annoying tightness. But it was always there. Through 2015 it was occasionally so bad that I needed to help to get out of bed, I simply couldn't sit up, couldn't move my legs, and I wanted to scream in pain at many moments throughout the day. Danish doctors couldn't find any problem, and didn't seem interested in helping me.

October 2015 is when my journey back to Speedskating began. I started the whole diagnosis and treatment process again with new doctors in the UK. I booked myself in to the hospital (via my GP), and the ordered MRI's, scans and I got a specialist spine and pain doctor. Immediately they had a diagnosis, and gave me treatment options. (Despite having an MRI in Denmark in 2012, where they said it was fine, no structural issues, so I spent years - and thousands of pounds - with physio's, Chiropractors, Osteopaths, massage therapists, stretching specialists and ""voodoo doctors"" trying to solve the problem, but just "chasing ghosts"). In 2011 I won Worlds, in 2015 IU couldn't even start the race because even the car or plane journey would have crippled me for days. In 2016, just a month ago, I did not finish the race, But I DID START the race. This was a milestone, because my back had improved enough to do some light training in the few weeks beforehand, and to tolerate the travel. Onward and upward.

Through 2016, I still couldn't train consistently, but the pain was reducing, and I was getting function back, and mobility. Following an MRI in February, and several consultations, followed by 4, bi-monthly, anti-inflammatory bilateral facet joint injections, and a 2 month course of some pretty serious pain-killers/anti-inflamitaries, by a back specialist (Dr. Quarashi) and the pain clinic at Woodthorpe Hospital in Nottingham, my back was progressing. The inflammation had reduced, I had less pain and more mobility. I could train! (and more importantly, I could tie my own shoe laces). The doctors also said that once the pain and inflammation had reduced, that having an extremely strong and stable core, supporting the spine and discs, would increase function and reduce inflammation even further, and therefore reduce pain. So ....

I had been on this journey back to speedskaitng for 11 months, on 21st September this year (3 days after Worlds) most other people were going in to their "off-season", resting, kicking back and maybe even opening a cold beer. I wasn't. I hadn't had a race season (for the last 3 years), so I didn't need an "off-season". I need to begin something new. I needed to change. I needed to work my way out of this now that it was possible, but I knew that I couldn't do this alone, despite the fact that I am qualified in sports, educated in sports science, and have 30 years experience of training and coaching, there was one thing missing; I can't see myself from the outside. Nobody can.

Nobody can coach themselves as effectively

as somebody else can coach them in co-operation.

Everybody needs a coach.

I searched around for a very highly educated functional strength coach. I found one in Michael. I didn't need someone to motivate me, or shout things to get me to work harder. This I can do myself. I needed someone who could see inside me, from the outside. I needed someone who could make my back, hips and pelvis work functionally more effectively.

With a Masters Degree in The Science of Human Physiology with speciality in functional strength training, He's also VERY well read, you can sense this just by talking to him. I knew Michael was the one.

Read more about Performance Centre CPH.

The first thing I told Michael was:

"I have 7 months to BUILD A BETTER BODY. To improve my functional strength, and be more powerful. I don't need to do anything sport specific before March."

Thanks to Michael I have done 7 things for

the first time in my life:

1. Got a Personal Strength Training Coach

External advice and instruction twice a week, daily text support, weekly and daily training programs. And most of all, someone to talk to when I have a question, when I can't see myself objectively, when I need help.

2. Structured Nutrition

I've never before in my life had the desire or the motivation to change my eating habits. Michael has helped me to eat more (which a thin tall guy like me needs to when training to develop strength. I eat more fish, more vegetables and fruit, eggs and meat, more water, and I eat more regularly throughout the day.

3. Functional Strength

Embarked on a course of strength training, 3 times/week, but most importantly WITHOUT doing any intervals or endurance training on the other days of the week. This means muscles get the chance to grow faster, and strength develops during the other days. This has transformed my training week.

4. Quit Skating (almost)

He advised me to stop skating for a period (4-6 months, let's see how it goes) while we strengthen the back. This would keep the inflammation to a minimum and reduce aggravating it further. In October I skated once. From November forward, I will skate only HALF a training session per week (45 mins/week), indoor, technical skating, circle drills, short paceline, relays, focusing on low position and challenging the strength of the muscles, not endurance, or high pulse training. Again focussing on functionality. (I can do this now, because my next race is earlier next April, and to be honest my skating technique is not my 'weakest link' right now.)

5. Occlusion Training

Over the last 5 years I have lost about 6kg in muscle, due to not being able to lift anything. Some days I couldn't even bend down to pick my skates up, so how on earth would I be able to Deadlift 130kg x 10reps? (my personal record from 7 years ago). Michael introduced me to Occlusion training to quickly re-build the lost muscle.

... what is Occlusion training? here.

6. Swimming

Power intervals in the swimming pool have made my back and arms stronger, and challenges my cardio system without placing strain on my back, or being in the skating (or cycling) position, or making my legs tired for the next days strength training. (p.s. I hate swimming. But Michael saw it was necessary, I trust him, so I do it. And it's helping.)

7. Stress Reduction

Michael has helped me make a structured and targeted approach to reducing my stress on a daily basis, through mental exercises, lifestyle changes and changing my thought processes. Feeling more relaxed (having lower cortisol levels) enables faster and higher quality recovery, and better sleep. This contributes to greater progression over time.

At just the right moment in time,

a friend I coach sent me this (above) in a text,

it meant a lot and really hit the right spot.

Thanks Marie.

The last thing Michael ensured I do, is not new to me, in fact it's something I encourage all the athletes I coach in speedskating to do. I knew I needed this, but it was hard to do without his support, and that is "consistency".

Consistency in training is one of the most important factors to progression. And as you can see, prior to September 21st my consistency was very poor, and training volume very low. (due to my back pain, and other factors beyond my control).

Now, for the last 7 weeks, through late September, October and early November, it's been almost perfect.

7 days in to November and another week of good solid training completed, I'm feeling good, better each week, and I know I'm on the right track.

This is what a Personal Coach should do. They should change things. They should challenge you. They should get you to do the things that you've never done before, they should see what you NEED, and what you've been missing, and then support you in making those changes on a daily basis.

I'm 7 weeks in, and already feeling SO much better. The last time I trained 49 days in a row was 2011 when I won the World Championship. 7 weeks ago I couldn't even deadlift a 20kg bar in September, now I'm up to 55kg Rack-Pulls without pain, Squatting 20kg on one leg and able to do a Bear Crawl. All these things were impossible 7 weeks ago.) But the best thing is, it's only November. I still have 4 months to develop and be stronger, and eventually be fast again on skates. And the best thing is that I have support from Michael all the way through the long dark winter.

So why did I write this piece? Well, one is to say thank you to Michael and Performance Centre CPH, without him I would still be battling pain. Secondly I know there are many people battling with back issues in skating and I hope to give them hope. And lastly, I just needed to write it, to get it out there, and to be positive about the future.

Performance Centre CPH Team

Michael Myhre pictured right

I'm going to do a follow-up piece in March, so watch this space to see how it's gone. Hope you all have a good winter training, see you on the flip side.

Stronger, Fitter, Faster.

"Let's get healthier, then go faster"

Coach Sooty


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